“If at First You Don’t Succeed…”

by Sara Swink

I just got word that two of my ceramic sculptures will be featured in two upcoming Lark Crafts books. Some months ago I had submitted images for “500 Figures in Clay Volume 2.”  Last week I got an email that one of them, “Domestic Production,” which is the piece pictured in this year’s tour guide, caught the eye of editors working on a new book, “Ceramic Sculpture: Making Faces.” The second piece “Tiger Buddha” will appear in “500 Figures 2,” which comes out in February 2014.

This was a sweet victory because I had submitted work for volume one of 500 Figures about 10 years ago and didn’t make the cut. Woo hoo!

“Domestic Production” was created in 2012. The cow-woman is coil-built with wheel-thrown bowls on the top, and finished with brushed-on oxides, underglazes and glazes, fired to cone 5, or about 2200 degrees F. It stands 26 inches tall.


Thematically, it deals with walking the line between domesticity and instinct. The idea came from a collage on paper that included an image of a cow from a National Geographic article about the history of domesticated animals, juxtaposed with some pictures of black and white sgraffito-decorated bowls from a craft publication. I was intrigued by the combination, and for days sketched cows with bowls in various configurations. One day the cow became a woman and, aha, the idea for the piece was born. This theme of the domestic versus the instinctual is something I’ve come back to again and again….where do we draw the line, how domestic is too domestic for a woman, for a society, for the planet? The black and white piebald pattern of the cow makes it a target for predators. To me this is a metaphor for the dangers of domestication. How have we sacrificed our instinctual nature to ensure survival? How much can we get away with?

“Tiger Buddha” was also created in 2012. It stands 18 inches tall. It was inspired by a photo of a child in one of my daughter’s special ed classes; she is an early intervention specialist with preschool-age kids. The child was obese at age 4, and though he had a low IQ, he looked like a radiant little being. My daughter said he was always happy and very sweet. While I was making the piece, I got the idea to give him a tiger hat because when I was a kid we had a friend with the same name as this child, but who went by the nickname Tiger. It was my way of protecting his anonymity. My partner, Harold (Oxley, also in Portland Open Studios), does all my photography, and he named the photo file Tiger Buddha. I thought it was a perfect title for the piece.

Both pieces will be on display at my studio during Portland Open Studios.